In nearly two decades of covering high school sports, I’ve watched a lot of talented teenagers pursue athletic goals.

Sometimes their dreams are simple — be a team leader, give a great performance or win a state title.

Sometimes they’re more ambitious — break a state record, nab individual awards or earn a college scholarship.

And then there are the select few, those in the recruiting world referred to as blue-chip athletes, who seem so rare and gifted that everyone seems to believe they will not only excel in college, but that are one day destined to play sports professionally.

The reality is much more complicated than almost any of us can predict. And nowhere is that more clear than in football, in large part because the popularity of the sport shines a spotlight that makes young men superstars before they’ve even earned a driver’s license.

And no recent case is more compelling to me than that of former BYU quarterback Jake Heaps. An article by Jayson Jenks in the Seattle Times this weekend rekindled my interest in Heaps — now a 24-year-old undrafted free agent trying to make with the New York Jets — who was obviously so talented, it's still baffling that he hasn’t found success after high school. There have been a plethora of theories as to why he’s floundered. After losing his starting job at BYU, he transferred to Kansas and then Miami, all without ever becoming the starting QB.

Jenks’ story was unique in that it shed light on Heaps' private life, including the way his parents handled his drive, talent and success. It raised several issues worthy of discussion, especially as we (fans and media) seem to have an insatiable desire for insight and info on particular players.

First, how should a parent deal with the pressure a child puts on him or herself? How much pressure should we put on gifted athletes who don’t naturally seem to possess the work ethic of their competitors?

And how do you balance expectations — yours, the child’s, the coaches', the fans' — as it seems just an examination of these pressures could be overwhelming to most of us.

I once heard a coach say that if coaches, teachers and parents held out high expectations, children would rise to meet or exceed them. As I have watched teenage athletes try to navigate the ever-changing world of competitive sports, I often find myself wondering where those expectations should be set.

Should they be tailored to an individual child’s talent or abilities?

Should the expectations include the assumption that the child will eventually experience the kind of success that encourages persistence and continued commitment?

The reality is that anyone who succeeds learns to ignore, overcome or utilize failure. But how do children learn persistence? And when does that persistence turn into an obsession?

Another issue is that of self-worth and confidence. There is no doubt confident people are the ones who succeed in life. They’re the ones who overcome setbacks, who silence critics, who learn to turn disappointment into fuel.

But there also seems to be a fine line between confidence and privileged or entitled. I’ve noticed in more traditional sports like football, basketball and baseball, as athletes grow up with year-round programs and private trainers, they seem to believe they’ve done the work that entitles them to reach their dreams.

Every summer I talk to football players across the state and nearly every team has athletes who are convinced that because they’ve worked hard, they will win. I wish it were that simple (as do thousands of coaches!).

The reality is that success — and let’s be honest, in sports that most often is defined as "winning" — is a lot more complicated than working hard and wanting it more (another reason young athletes give me for why this year belongs to their programs).

It seems to me that crossing from confidence into arrogance can lead to feelings of entitlement. And that creates an environment in which other athletes, quite often unheralded walk-ons, can come in and take what the superstars have always had and have come to expect.

Jenks describes how Heaps “never wanted people to see the burden.” And yet, it manifested itself. Heaps' mom described finding him in his room, frustrated and in tears. When she suggested he didn’t have to play anymore, she said he insisted on pushing through because “he loved it so much.” I read this and wondered about balance. I wondered about burnout, about specialization and about the way even youth sports has become something of a business proposition for so many young people and their families.

This summer, dozens of teenage football players will transfer to different schools. The reasons they offer the Utah High School Activities Association will have nothing to do with sports. But the reality is that for most prep athletes willing to change schools for what they perceive as better opportunities, no decision is without the influence of the games around which they plan their lives.

Lives are not easily separated into compartments. Teenagers can’t separate the pressure of being the No. 1 ranked prep quarterback from being in a math class or trying to navigate a recruiting process that baffles and frustrates most adults.

So it seems to me when a child specializes in one sport, they create a situation where it's nearly impossible for anyone to offer them balance or a unique perspective. The types of people who can influence them simply shrinks.

And then I wondered about personal accountability. I’ve seen athletes stay in bad situations and struggle to ever have any success. I’ve watched athletes transfer from program to program and still never achieve their dreams.

It is difficult to know if transferring three times during his college career was the right thing for Heaps to do. I know that there are times I’ve stayed in a tough situation and emerged stronger and wiser for it. I know there are times I’ve left what seemed an unfavorable situation and my life improved. But I think it is worth noting that more and more high school and collegiate athletes seem to be willing to give up rather than fight through tough circumstances. Sometimes that’s beneficial to them, sometimes to the program. Sometimes it is devastating to both. It just seems as it becomes more common, we may want to examine when and why we give up on a situation to get what we want sooner.

BYU has another quarterback who seems to be an example of why some level of persistence can benefit both an individual and a team — Steve Young. The NFL Hall of Fame quarterback excelled after being a backup to star quarterbacks in both college and as a pro. He provides a compelling argument to staying put and working hard. But then, the reality is college football has changed in unexpected and remarkable ways since he graduated in 1983.

I don’t know if there are any clear answers to the questions raised by the Heaps’ story. But there are certainly issues that players, parents and coaches should discuss.

The wise will listen to what Heaps, his coaches and his parents are saying. They will consider how to balance desire and drive, especially when athletes are still in high school.

The foolish will see Heaps as a fickle, overrated, over-confident high school quarterback. They’ll shrug off his failure as another young man whose promise was lost because he refused to be anything but the team's star.

But it’s not that simple. It never is.

And until those who benefit most from the success of these young athletes care enough to delve into these complicated and uncomfortable issues, there definitely will be more stories like his.

Twitter: adonsports EMAIL: adonaldson@deseretnews.com